The Barbary Macaques of Algeria

Dwelling in forests of pine, cedar and oak in the Atlas Mountains, Barbary macaques are a relatively common sight in the protected areas of Algeria. Often erroneously referred to as Barbary apes, these gregarious primates are not actually apes, but are true Old World monkeys. Yellowish brown to grey in color, they are known to grow to a maximum size of 75 cm and weigh up to 16 kgs, with females typically being smaller than males. Other distinguishing features are its dark pink face, front limbs that are longer than its hind legs and, unlike most monkeys, they have no tail, or have what is known as a vestigial tail.

Active in the day and resting at night, these interesting animals spend an equal amount of time in the trees and on the ground, as they search for roots, fruit and insects to supplement their mainly foliage-based diet. They live in groups of between ten and a hundred males and females of all ages, with the matriarch determining the hierarchy in the troop. While patrolling their territory, which may cover several square kilometers, they co-exist peacefully with other primate species. The male Barbary macaque plays a significant role in raising his offspring, and much time is spent playing and grooming. Barbary macaques typically mate between November and March, with one baby being born after a period of between 147 and 192 days. They reach maturity at 3 to 4 years of age and are known to live for 20 years and more.

Ongoing conservation research has revealed that the Barbary Macaque numbers have declined to the extent that they are now considered to be an endangered species by IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are a number of reasons for this, including habitat destruction and poaching by collectors. Moreover, local farmers view the animals as pests, resulting in them being hunted and killed. Another problem facing populations of Barbary macaques is that, while once they were widespread, being found in most North African countries including Tunisia and Libya, as well as in southern Europe, they have been fragmented into smaller isolated groups found only in Algeria, Morocco and a small population in Gibraltar. This has led to inbreeding and the weakening of the genetic makeup of the monkeys, making them vulnerable to degenerative conditions and disease. Past research has focused on Barbary macaques in the spectacular evergreen cedar-oak forest of Djurdjura, and a group in the deciduous oak forest of Akfadou, with a view to understanding their behavior patterns and determining a route forward in conservation efforts.

Today, visitors are very likely to see Barbary macaques while exploring the protected areas of Algeria, particularly in the mountainous and forested regions that are the preferred habitat of these playful and inquisitive Old World monkeys.